Peter Kelly, Aalto University: “Reimagining how we network requires cooperation from universities, companies, and students”


Without diverse international networks, Finnish businesses and entrepreneurs are missing out, says Peter Kelly, Canadian by birth.

Peter Kelly, Connector and senior lecturer of high growth entrepreneurship at Aalto University, sees attracting international students to Finland and recruiting them to Finnish companies as a networking problem. Without these different perspectives, Finnish companies are missing out on important opportunities and new ways of thinking.

Finns need more diversity in their networks

Finding inspiration from the collaborative entrepreneurial environments of Stanford, Harvard and London Business School, Kelly emphasizes the importance of diverse global networks, and particularly affinity networking, where people connect through commonalities such as being alumni of the same university.

“The network [in Finland] tends to be very tight and very local. Everyone knows each other and you attack problems that way. There are common approaches, and you bounce ideas off common people, and that’s fine, but that foregoes the benefits of having a diverse group of people that have different nationalities, different experiences, and different perspectives.”

For many students, networking starts too late

One part of the problem is the lack of networking taking place at universities for international students who lack strong ties in Finland, and for Finnish students, who also struggle to understand how to network.

“Networking is so important, yet we don’t do nearly enough to support our degree students, lifelong learners, and companies to do that.”

Without building strong local connections, international students will struggle to stay in Finland, a country in which the vast majority of job opportunities come from the hidden labor market. Kelly notes that many of his own foreign students start networking too late into their studies, making it even more difficult to catch up by the time they begin jobhunting.

Another part of the problem, according to Kelly, is the lack of exposure to the diverse international talent pool at Finnish universities, especially for small companies.

Do the companies in Finland even know the international students are here?

“Asking a small company to ‘just create an internship’ isn’t easy for a company with a small team and budget,” Kelly says.

While larger multinational companies have global workforces with the resources to create trainee programs, and while medium-sized enterprises with international traction may be ready to take the leap, some solutions aren’t always within reach for small companies.

The key to encouraging recruitment of international students, says Kelly, is to promote making connections through low-risk, nationality-blind networking encounters. For example, in such encounters, companies and students would be able to identify common interests, and students would be able demonstrate their ability to solve the problems companies are facing.

Akin to co-creation, Kelly sees these encounters as a way to bring together companies–who possess deep understanding of their markets–and students–who have the freedom to be creative. This active networking puts names to faces while allowing students to demonstrate their skills, thus creating opportunities for companies to engage with a larger pool of recruitment prospects.

“To build more internationalization and diversity into our networks implies seeking out and talking to strangers.”

Kelly’s networking recommendations:

  1. Finland needs to reimagine its approaches to networking: For students, this means starting from the first day of their studies. For universities, this means providing more support for students to learn how to network. For companies, this means participating in networking events.
  2. Everyone can benefit from diversifying their networks: The start-up hubs of the world succeed because of their diversity, which allows entry into new markets, new methods of problem-solving, and the creation of far-reaching connections.
  3. Creating curated opportunities for networking presents a more manageable way for small companies to meet the talent pool at Finnish universities.

The interview was made by our American summer intern, Anna Bogdan.


This article is also published in Finnish